Incredible India, safe and sound
Room N House takes homestays and couchsurfing to the next level by screening travellers and conducting recces of the host’s property to ensure safety and amenities, finds Kareena N Gianani
In November last year, 28-year-old Pritam Mendonca had trippy plans for the NH7 Weekender in Pune. Nine of his friends had their minds made up and bags packed, when they realised that the hotels around the venue were all booked. The only options the group had were luxurious, and inevitably expensive hotels, which they were reluctant to
Thanks to Room N House, graphic designer Pritam Mendonca (in black) stayed at a sprawling, inexpensive bungalow for a holiday at Pune in November 2013
It was then that Mendonca, a graphic designer, logged on to Roomnhouse (.com) — an online platform which connects travellers with hosts willing to let their space out. Room N House takes the idea of couchsurfing and homestays to the next level by conducting recces to screen travellers’ and the hosts’ amenities.
“We zeroed in on a bungalow after looking at its photographs and details on Room N House. It was sprawling and well-kept, with charming balconies and enough space for 10 travellers. The host was a foreigner, but we were surprised at how deftly she guided us through the neighbourhood during our stay. We could use the barbeque, the lawns, were provided with toasters and ironing boards in every room. And as it was her home, we never had to worry about getting a raw deal in terms of hygiene. The best part? We paid R1,000 each — whereas we would have had to shell out double that amount at the available hotels,” remembers Mendonca.
When Mendonca first saw the photographs taken during the bungalow’s recce, he wondered whether the host, too, had “jazzed it up” like most hotels do. “I’ve often landed up at a hotel and it looks nothing like it does on the website. But that was not the case with Room N House — we got what we signed up for,” he says.
Room N House’s founders, Rakesh Singh and Amit Solanki founded the website in June 2013. “Quite a few Indians are into homestays and couch surfing, but we wanted to invest in an initiative which also ensures transparency in terms of payment and a larger sense of security,” says Singh. The moment a host lists their premises on the website, the founders ask a photographer to conduct the place’s recce, confirm its exact address and click photographs of the property to put up on the website, which is then accessible to the travellers. Room N House was also the official accommodation provider for the crew of the Sunburn Festival held in Goa in November 2013.
The website started off rather altruistically. Last year, when Uttarakhand was reeling under floods, the founders compiled a list of properties in the region whose owners were eager to house the affected pilgrims. “All the hotels and guest houses in the region were full. We tied up with the NGO, Salaam Zindagi, and they took the floods’ victims to these listed properties. Then, there was no looking back for us,” says Singh.
Currently, Room N House lists 985 hosts across 46 cities in the country. Most requests, says Singh, are from travellers who wish to visit Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Pune. “This year, we plan to list more hosts for religious travellers, who want to visit Varanasi, Haridwar, Ujjain and Hrishikesh. We also plan to expand to Dubai and another destination in the Middle East.”
Room N House, says Singh, is particularly useful to women travellers, who comprise 65 per cent of his users. “Just like we screen the hosts for the traveller’s benefit, we also ensure the hosts’ interests are taken care of by giving out only part of the address until a traveller does not pay. The money is transferred into the host’s account only 24 hours later,” he says.
On his part, Mendonca says he will never want to stay at a hotel during his travel. “I plan to attend the NH7 this year in Bangalore or Delhi, and I plan to do it the same way as last year. A surprise never hurt anyone,” he smiles.
Log on to www.roomnhouse.com